Sarah’s Blue Berry weekend

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In part three of our short series, Sarah share’s her experience saving blue berries when they are available in abundance.

Behold - BLUEBERRIES

Berries are a very common window item in the summer. We often hand them out by the box full, which can build up a mountain of berries in someone’s refrigerator. Many people feel overwhelmed by that much of one type of food and will sometimes be reluctant to take the full amount available to them. After shopping the previous week , I found myself with more blueberries than I thought I could handle this past weekend.  Luckily berries can be used in a number of different ways fairly easily so with a little effort, I froze and made jam from the berries so I could enjoy them over the weeks to come.

I started with somewhere between  12 and 15 pints of blueberries. I had run out of store-bought jam and decided to try my hand at homemade jam.  A call to my mom and a lot of research told me the easiest way to make jam was with Certo-brand pectin, but I didn’t have pectin or convenient access to a full grocery store. I also had some peaches, so I made a combo blueberry peach jam. As a result I attempted to make jam without pectin using this recipe:

Wild Blueberry Jam Recipe, from Adventures in Local Foods
6 cups Blueberries ( I used 4 cups blueberries and 2 cups peeled peaches)
2- 4 TBSP Lemon Juice, to taste
3 Cups Sugar

Blue Berry Jam

Making jam requires a bit of prep work. Washing the berries and peeling the peaches take the most time but are not difficult. The recipe for jam recommended using at least a 10-inch heavy-bottomed pot in order to cook the jam quickly and consistently. I poured my berries and peaches into a large stock pot, but it ended up being a bit too deep. I mashed the fruit with a potato masher and I turned the stove temperature up to a high heat until the fruit starts boiling. You will have to stir the fruit to keep it bubbling but not burning to the bottom of your pot. As you go, taste the fruit to check the tartness and add lemon juice if it is too sweet. Mix in all the sugar once the fruit liquid starts to bubble. Stir until jelly point is reached.

Testing for the jelly point is pretty simple. Take a spoon of the cooking jelly and place it on a small plate in the freezer. Wait for three minutes and check, if the jelly is still runny keep cooking. Keep testing at roughly 5 minute intervals until the spoonful of cooked jam turns into a jelly. I found it took about 15 minutes to reach a good jelly point, but you should just keep testing.

Once the jam was ready I poured it into well-cleaned jars that I had left to warm in the oven (at around 200F). I filled two pint jars with jam and screwed on the metal lids. Based on advice from my mother I left the jars on the counter to cool down. As they cooled the lids popped in to indicate that they have sealed but I still decided to keep my jam in the fridge. Alternatively, jam can be stored in clean jars or containers in the freezer as long as room is allowed for any water expansion.

I realize making jam sounds like a lot of work, but with a couple hands to help with the washing and peeling the process can go pretty quickly. Once the jam is cooking it doesn’t take long and after it sits in the jars for a few hours it is ready to eat.

Freezing berries is significantly easier than making jam. I washed my berries, removed the bad ones and let them dry on a tea towel. I then placed them in a single layer on a couple of pans that fit in my freezer. I left them in my freezer for almost 48 hours so they would freeze thoroughly. I almost forgot they were in there! Once the berries were frozen, it was easy to transfer them into plastic bags. The tough part was removing as much air as possible before returning them to the freezer. The berries I’ve frozen will be good for six months, but I’m sure they will be eaten before then. I plan to use my frozen berries for muffins, fruit platz, oatmeal breakfast cake and smoothies in the winter.

Freezing Blue Berries

Since we are often giving away large quantities of berries and fruit to participants in the summer, it seemed important to learn how to use them in a number of different ways. I was using blueberries but the process for making jam and freezing any berry is similar between berry types. The public library carries a lot of information about preserving foods and the internet is also a great resource for learning how to keep foods longer.

Tomatoes will be the feature of our next blog, since they are a fairly regular item in our hampers. Chloe will be sharing her experience making tomato soup from scratch.

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